Raiders Silver and Black Warrior: LB Matt Millen

In a long list of great players for the Oakland, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas Raiders, you can't overlook the warrior Matt Millen.

Matt Millen was one of the best and toughest linebackers in the history of the Oakland Raiders, unafraid to say what he was thinking about off the field and able to back it up on the field.

The 6-2, 250-pound Millen was that way even before the Silver and Black selected him in the second round of the 1980 NFL Draft (No. 43 overall) out of Penn State.

It started back in high school, if not before.

At a practice before the Big 33, the Pennsylvania-Ohio all-star high school football game, a coach threw a blocking dummy at Millen and told him to hold it, but Millen threw it back at him. The coach wound up naming Millen a team captain.

During a scrimmage in spring practice while playing at Penn State, Millen got into so many fights that legendary Coach Joe Paterno sent him to the sidelines.

“I’m not standing on the sidelines for anyone,” Millen told him and walked out of the stadium—in full uniform.

After the early rounds of the 1980 Draft, Paterno made a point of congratulating defensive end Bruce Clark for being drafted in the first round by the Green Bay Packers and Millen, who played defensive line for the Nittany Lions, for going to the Raiders in round two.

That wasn’t the end of it.

“I told him, ‘They’re going to make a linebacker out of me,’” Millen told Paterno. “He said, ‘You can’t play linebacker,’ and I said, ‘Hey, Joe, you can’t coach, either, but that doesn’t stop you.’”

Afterward, Clark said: “Matt, why do you do that?”

Responded Millen: “I dunno, why does he say that to me?”

In his nine seasons with the Raiders, Millen took that attitude onto the field.

Not only was he involved in fights with tight end Kellen Winslow of the San Diego Chargers, running back Otis Wonsley of the Washington Redskins, and others, but in practice with defensive end John Matuszak, his Raiders teammate.

When Sam Boghosian, the Raiders' offensive line coach, wanted to pick up the intensity level at practice before Super Bowl XVIII against the Washington Redskins, he thought a fight might do it. So, he chose Millen to start it.

“Our week of practice in Tampa ... I remember it being extremely physical,” defensive end Howie Long said, adding that the Raiders were not pleased that the Redskins had been made 10½-point favorites.

“Matt Millen, the first day of Super Bowl week practice, got in a fight with someone. You would have thought it was training camp. It was on. That was the mindset of our team. It wasn’t about the 10½ points. It was about we were going to kick their ass.”

Washington offensive lineman Russ Grimm told reporters during the week: “I’d run over my mother to win the Super Bowl.”

Responded Millen: “I’d run over Russ Grimm’s mother, too.”

The Raiders routed the Redskins, 38-9, for one of four Super Bowl rings Millen earned during his career, two with the Raiders and one each with the San Francisco 49ers and the Redskins.

Millen also punched out General Manager Patrick Sullivan of the New England Patriots after a 1985 divisional-round playoff game in which the Patriots upset the Raiders, 27-20. Millen claimed Sullivan had been trash-talking him and Long throughout the game. And he did not apologize, calling it, “A good hit.”

Millen, who was an All-American at Penn State in 1978, played in his only Pro Bowl in 1988, his final year with the Raiders. He’s another player who probably was hampered by tackles not yet being an official NFL statistic, but he had 11 sacks, nine interceptions that he returned for 132 yards, and eight fumble recoveries during his career.

Raiders owner Al Davis called Millen, “My policeman.”

Millen’s teams compiled a 15-4 record during the NFL playoffs, including those four Super Bowl victories.

Following his playing career, Millen was President and CEO of the Detroit Lions from 2001-08 but was fired after the Lions compiled a 31-97, the worst eight-year record in modern NFL history.

Ever since, Millen has been a football commentator for several national television and radio networks, including Fox, ESPN, NBC, the Big Ten Network, Westwood One, and the NFL Network.

However, in 2018 Millen was diagnosed with a form of cancer called amyloidosis, which produces amyloids—a protein formed in the bone marrow—and he completed more than 40 rounds of chemotherapy.

At one point in between chemo treatments, Millen went back to work in the television booth for a Raiders preseason game, but he said there wasn’t much to it.

“Heck, that’s not work,” Millen said. “That’s fun.”

On Christmas Eve of 2019, Millen underwent a heart transplant.

“It’s ironic that the thing that failed him was probably the single thing that you’d use to describe Matt—all heart,” Long said of his former teammate.

But as you would expect, Matt Millen is still fighting.

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